'Modest' bathing suits featured on Wall Street Journal's front page — what's religion got to do with it?

Today's Wall Street Journal features a front-page trend story on "modest" bathing suits.

I read the lede and immediately felt my GetReligion Spidey sense tingle:

WEST ORANGE, N.J. — When Deborah Nixon heads to her local pool in her swimsuit — a pair of long black leggings and a matching short-sleeved top like surfers wear — she gets compliments and admiring glances, at least from other women.
“It is the New Sexy,” says Ms. Nixon. The 58-year-old, who has abandoned her conventional one-piece bathing suit in favor of the more elaborate get-up, is convinced she looks and feels better with less of her showing.
A whole lot less.
Ms. Nixon, a former nurse and retired captain in the U.S. Public Health Service, is a fan of so-called modest swimsuits. This increasingly popular style of beachwear is a far cry — and for some women a welcome relief — from the skimpy bikinis and bare-all Brazilian bottoms that have dominated beach fashions.

A little personal background: Growing up in Churches of Christ in the South, we didn't believe in "mixed bathing," which referred to boys and girls swimming together. My family did watch "The Love Boat" on Saturday nights, which always confused me. Not that I complained.

(My friend Roger B. Woods spent his early childhood in Hawaii and California, where the church culture was different. So he was surprised when he moved to Virginia at age 14 and heard a sermon against mixed bathing. "On the ride home," Roger recalls, "I asked my parents: 'Why'd he preach about boys and girls taking baths together.'")

Of course, positions on mixed swimming — and on some other issues, such as dancing — have softened among some, maybe many, in my church fellowship over the years. At the same time, a major gathering called Polishing the Pulpit meets at a Tennessee hotel with a waterpark but shuts down that facility during its gathering. The organizers explain: "All the directors and overseeing elders strongly oppose mixed swimming because of the Bible’s teaching on modesty (1 Timothy 2:9), our responsibility to avoid being a stumbling block to others (Romans 14:13), and our need to avoid putting ourselves in the path of temptation (Matthew 5:28; 6:13)."

My personal experience helps explain why I wondered if the modest swimsuits might have a religious motivation — and if the Journal story would reflect the faith angle.

So I kept reading.

Almost immediately, the Journal eased any concern about a potential holy ghost haunting the piece. No ghostbusting needed here:

She purchased her suit from HydroChic, one of several online purveyors of modest swimwear that have sprung up in recent years in a competitive cottage industry. Like several others in the business, HydroChic, based in New Rochelle, N.Y., was started by Orthodox Jewish women looking for suitable beachwear in a community where women follow strict dress codes.
Orthodox women typically cover their arms and legs, presenting a conundrum for a trip to the beach. Sara Wolf, HydroChic’s co-founder, said she got the idea for the swim line at the Jersey Shore, where she spotted Orthodox women walking in the sand in ankle-length jean skirts. She found herself thinking about how her own friends wore oversize T-shirts and baggy men’s shorts to the beach.

Later, the story quotes Danta Bolin, who loves the swimwear because it covers up — as she describes them — her not-so-pretty thighs:

Ms. Bolin said she still remembers admiring comments from lifeguards who loved her surfer look: “They thought I was the coolest.” She has never looked back.
Now transplanted to upstate New York, Ms. Bolin has a new set of fans: devout Christian women living nearby, who regularly ask her where she found her swim gear. She says her preferred get-up has nothing to do with religion: “It doesn’t expose parts of me that don’t need to be exposed.”

Ordinarily, we at GetReligion would say to the Journal: Define "devout Christian women." But in this case — and in the context of quoting Bolin describing the women she has encountered — I'm not going to grumble.

Leave it to our own tmatt to point out that this isn't the first religion-and-swimwear post we've done at GetReligion. Way back in 2006, Mollie Hemingway critiqued a Washington Post feature on bikinis and modesty. And in 2011, tmatt himself wrote a post titled "The Sun cheers for modest swimming."

Apparently, there really is nothing new under the sun. Even if there is something new to wear in the sun. And at the beach.

The Journal story is interesting, entertaining and, in my case, stirred up boyhood nostalgia. Plus, it gets religion. 

Now, if you'll please excuse me, I need to figure out if they make these full-body bathing suits for men ...

Please respect our Commenting Policy